Saturday, July 13, 2019

Blog Post From Nebraska

We are visiting my family in Kearney, Nebraska. When we are here in the summer we go for walks in the nearby cemetery. There is a lot of shade there, and many of the tombstones are interesting. For instance,


I looked over and said that looks like land leveling equipment, and it was. At the bottom it says “He left the land better than he found it.” Nebraska, particularly the part west of the 100th meridian has historically been a relatively dry place (although the south side of Kearney was under water when we got here after a storm dumped about 9 inches of rain). There is, however, a lot of water under the ground, making it possible to produce water intensive crops if you can irrigate your fields.

One method of irrigation is to lay a pipe along the side of the field. Water comes out of holes in the pipe and runs along the rows.

This system obviously requires pretty level land. Land levelers used large construction equipment like the scraper pictured on the tombstone to turn land that could not be irrigated into land that could be irrigated. I remember when I was a kid it seemed like there was land leveling going on all the time. I don’t notice it as much now. That may be because I am not around as much, but it may also be due to development of and expanded us of center pivot systems. In the center pivot the pipe is elevated and rotates around the field. Its not quite as demanding in terms of the land. 

Center pivots are very common in this part of Nebraska. This is what the land looks like just south of Kearney. Circles inside of squares.

The squares are the result of the system of land surveying established by the Land Ordinance of 1785. Each square is a one square mile section (640 acres). The circles are due to the center pivot irrigation. As it rotates around the field it creates a circle.

Center pivot irrigation was developed in Nebraska after WWII. You can find out about ts development and impact in Richard Hornbeck and Pinar Keskin. "The historically evolving impact of the Ogallala Aquifer: Agricultural adaptation to groundwater and drought." American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 6, no. 1 (2014): 190-219.

This is another tombstone that some people might be surprised to find in Kearney, but there are several like it.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a number of people immigrated to Kearney from The Levant. Here is some information on the Lebanese Community in Kearney Part 1 and 2 and here is some information about the Eastern Orthodox Church they established, St. George Orthodox Church

While we are on the subject of settlers in Nebraska, on the flight here (btw this is the first summer in 25 years that I have not driven through fly over country between Fredericksburg, VA and Kearney, Nebraska) I finally got a round to reading  Edwards, Richard, Jacob K. Friefeld, and Rebecca S. Wingo. Homesteading the Plains: Toward a New History. U of Nebraska Press, 2017. The book challenges pretty much all of the conventional wisdom (of academics) regarding homesteading, and provides new insights based on a study of homesteaders in two counties in Nebraska.

Finally, I need to make my usual pitch for two of my favorite museums

Pioneer Village in Minden

and the Stuhr Museum in Grand Island

Both are amazing and both are just a little (less than 20 minutes) off of interstate 80

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